An official investigation at the Law Development Centre has faulted the final examination results of at least 15 lawyers, including two outspoken politicians.
The probe, into the conduct of Bar Course exams over eight years, has thrown up findings that could jeopardise the legal careers of regional MP Fred Mukasa Mbidde and former Makindye East MP Michael Mabikke.
The two risk losing their practising licences. While the report does not accuse the politicians of fraud, it says they benefitted from fraudulent marks in order to qualify to practise law.
Dated November 12, 2012, the forensic audit report covers examinations written between 2004 and 2011. It shows that the final results of East African Legislative Assembly member Mbidde and Mabikke were altered to earn them the pass mark.
The investigation generally found potential wrongdoing, ranging from cases of "ghost" marks, alteration of marks from those given by examiners, wrong computation of marks by examiners, hiring of mercenaries to sit exams for students, use of unfitting invigilators, and instances where some exams weren't moderated by external examiners.
To come to that conclusion, investigators reviewed previous reports submitted to LDC, scrutinized examination scripts, petitions for verification, verification reports, mark sheets, compiled results and oral examination files, and conducted interviews with some key players in and outside LDC. The report recommends further investigations by a committee headed by a retired High Court judge to analyse each case before any action can be taken.
Mbidde, on his part, protested his innocence in a brief interview with The Observer on Tuesday, insisting he had no case to answer at LDC. The report says he and Mabikke failed to earn the pass mark for the award of their postgraduate diplomas but that their marks were altered to scores above the 50% pass mark, which enabled them to graduate.
Their diplomas are among the many that the examiners want recalled and investigated further as "they were acquired through fraud" or "the findings of this report show that the candidates did not satisfy requirements for the award of the Diploma in Legal Practice."
The five-member audit team was appointed by the new LDC Director, Frank Othembi, on August 8, 2012 to verify examination scripts for postgraduate legal studies between 2004 and 2011. The appointment was approved by the LDC Management Committee. Dr Rose Nakayi led the team, which comprised Everest Turyahikayo (Secretary), Dr Ronald Kakungulu-Mayambala and Miriam Achieng.
The report says Mabikke's graduation from LDC on September 3, 2010 was on the basis of wrong marks because he had scored 43% on his second and last supplementary Commercial Transactions examination, only for his marks to be adjusted to 50% and presented to the LDC Board of Examiners. In interviews with the audit committee, both P.M. Mugisha and Francis Bwengye, the internal and external examiners for this paper respectively, disowned the 50% mark, insisting that Mabikke scored 43%.
Mabikke's marks were also allegedly altered in the Criminal Proceedings examination that was written on May 3, 2010. While he scored 36%, the report says that Mabikke's marks were altered to 56%.
"The fake 56% instead of the genuine 36% was recorded as this candidate's mark on the results compiled and presented to the Board of Examiners. On the basis of this, the candidate accordingly 'passed' and graduated," reads the report.
"If the marks of this candidate had not been forged....he should have been discontinued in accordance with the rules governing the passing of the Bar course."
The report notes that the mark sheet on which Mabikke's marks were altered wasn't signed by any of the four internal examiners: Expedito Kkaaya, Stephen Mubiru, Lydia Nabiryo, Ms Magala and an external examiner Kafuko Ntuuyo. Ms Magala, who marked this paper, according to the report, told the audit team that it's her practice to use initials wherever she changes marks and to sign a mark sheet if she enters marks. She also said the handwriting on the filled mark sheet wasn't hers.
"The plausible explanation from the wisdom of the committee is Ms Magala's signed mark sheet could have been discarded and marks were recorded on another that is unsigned on file."
The committee concludes: "This is not an isolated case and cannot be a coincidence that the same candidate's marks in Commercial Transactions as seen above were forged."
The report says Mbidde was among students whose final-term exam results for Criminal Proceedings 2008/09 were altered on the handwritten mark sheets, an alteration that allowed them to graduate on September 3, 2010.
"His scores as seen on the handwritten mark sheet were erased by whitewashing and new scores were entered without counter signatures."
The report shows that Mbidde's marks in this paper were altered from 32% to 56%. Stephen Mubiru, who was the head of this subject at the time this examination was written, told the probe team that he always countersigned against any alteration of marks and did not whitewash any marks on the mark sheet. He provided a copy of his submitted mark sheet - which had no sign of whitewashing. The report also casts doubt on Mbidde's Land Transactions scores.
"Also note that candidate number BAR/324/2008's Land Transactions marks are highly suspicious. It is only for this candidate that black ink was used in the column of the Internal Examiner on the mark sheet. The script was not availed to the committee."
When The Observer spoke to Mbidde this week, he was at first reluctant to comment, then defiant.
"I sat and passed my exams three years ago without any query. I, therefore, have no business with LDC. Whoever comes up with allegations now will meet me in court," he told us.
Mabikke declined to comment. Apart from Mabikke and Mbidde, the report faults 15 students whose marks, it says, need to be investigated further. LDC's Othembi declined to speak to The Observer. He referred us to the institute's spokesman, Hamis Lukyamuzi Ddungu, who emailed confirming that Othiembi had received the report on November 30, 2012.
The statement adds that on December 19, 2012, the LDC Management Committee considered the audit report and noted that it points to possible wrongdoing in the postgraduate Bar Course examinations process.
"The Management Committee resolved to set up a committee headed by a retired judge of the High Court to conduct a detailed inquiry into specific cases of suspected exam malpractice and to review the recommendations of the forensic audit committee."
This committee will execute its functions from January 1, to February 28, 2013. The statement adds that LDC has undertaken further administrative measures to strengthen the examinations process in accordance with the recommendations of the audit report. These include setting up a fully-fledged and staffed Academic Registrar's department.
The report also points to possible cases of fake external examiners, saying this could be a pointer to a bigger problem where some scripts were subjected to fake external examiners. This discovery was made in respect to a student, Ivan Ndugwa Sekyanda, whom the probe team investigated for alleged forged marks in the Criminal Proceedings paper.
The committee noticed "obvious differences between the handwriting of the external examiner on the other scripts and this candidate's script."
Kafuko Ntuuyo, the external examiner, denied examining Ndugwa's script.
The report also found instances of a mercenary advocate who sat the pre-entry examination for a candidate who eventually got admitted for the Bar course. An advocate of the High Court allegedly sat pre-entry examinations for a student who scored 50% in the entry exam and completed the Bar course at LDC in the academic year 2007/2008. He graduated on July 31, 2009.
The report doesn't spare some LDC staff. It says vices like alteration of marks signal laxity in supervision, compilation of examination results, proofreading of records of marks and storage of the same.
"This has left fissures through which some students not entitled to the diploma in Legal Practice due to the fact that they had failed some examination(s) seeped, after abusing the process," it says.
The report lists three staff (names withheld) who might be involved in the actions or omissions presented in the report.